Contests And Awards

Spec-Faith-Winter-Writing-Challenge-300x150I love to highlight good books, especially Christian speculative fiction, but I also enjoy the opportunity to point blog readers to other bloggers who share a like passion. Thus the CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award.

In case you missed it, there are four eligible bloggers who participated in the December tour for Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. Each of these is deserving of recognition, but the nature of awards is that we pick the best of the best. And who else can do that but those who peruse the posts? Any and all who take a few minutes over the next few days will discover interesting, honest, balanced writing about a book in one of the hottest genres going: fairytale fantasy.

There’s also another opportunity you might want to participat in and/or help with. Over at Spec Faith we’re running the Winter Writing Challenge. Entries are coming in, but there are still four more days for you to submit your own piece–a one-hundred to two-hundred word continuation of this sentence prompt:

    If the reports were true, Galen had reached the right spot.

We need readers, too–people to give feedback on the entries by hitting the thumbs-up button for the selections they think are best. There is no limit on the number of entries for which you can give a positive endorsement at this stage of the challenge.

So have at it–you might be voting for a piece of writing that will turn into a blockbuster. 😉 (It’s possible!)

Responding To Criticism

Writers in particular seem to be interested in criticism, but the truth is, no matter what our profession we all are apt to face criticism in one form or another.

When I was a new teacher, I was so fearful of parent/teacher conferences — until I learned that most of the parents were just as fearful. Of what? I, that these parents would criticize the job I was doing as a teacher; they, that I would criticize their job as parents.

Of course there were also professional evaluations when an administrator would come into the classroom, observe, then meet with me later and give his assessment (read, critique) of my lesson. And there were the standardized tests we gave too. Ostensibly these measured the students’ progress from one year to the next, but guess who was responsible for their growth or lack thereof? 🙄

Other jobs have similar ways of measuring job performance, so why do some writers (see comments) have such a hard time taking criticism?

The topic came up recently on Mike Duran’s blog, not once but twice. And the author meltdown on Books and Pals ignited additional posts about bad reviews and author responses.

I suspect that part of the issue is how public author criticism is. I mean, when my administrator gave me a job performance evaluation, it was confidential. I got a copy and one went into my file, but from there, no one needed to know if I got a “five star” rating or a “one star.” 😉

Writers have no such confidentiality clause with reviewers. In fact, the point of the review is to publicize an opinion about a writer’s performance.

A reviewers opinion, of course, is not accurately equated with a supervisor’s assessment. In my situation, reviewers would be more closely aligned to my students’ opinions. Imagine if each of them posted on my classroom window what they thought of my lessons that day. Hmmm. 🙄

But a writer’s reviews serve a greater purpose than writer evaluation. They benefit readers because they inform. And they benefit writers because they promote in ways a writer can’t. Reviews on the Internet aren’t paid advertisement. They are one reader’s opinion (or in the case of a blog tour, one group of readers varying opinions).

Consequently, it seems a little baffling to me that a writer would respond in any way but with gratitude. Someone read their book. That in itself is something to be thankful for.

Lambasting the critiquer? I don’t see how that’s a good move under any circumstance.

Some writers answer that the right response is to ignore all reviews, even good ones. I don’t know what I think about commenting on Amazon, but on blogs and particularly in blog tours, I think an author that doesn’t comment is missing out on an opportunity to make a positive connection with a reader.

One author, definitely old school, said to comment on favorable reviews might illicit syrupy suck-up reviews in the future. Well, maybe that’s a risk worth taking. Because no comment could earn an author no review in the future.

I know it’s not always possible, but it seems to me, if a person has taken the time to read a book, write and post a blog review, the least the author can do is drop by with a simple thank you.

I actually learned that from Andy Sernovitz who wrote Word of Mouth Marketing. A couple years ago I won a free copy of his book and blogged about something I learned from it. True to the advice he gave in the book, he stopped by my site to say thank you for the mention. And that wasn’t even a full review.

In my opinion, authors would do well to take advantage of reviews by responding kindly and professionally. I’ve seen more than one blogger won over by such an approach.

Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 6:30 pm  Comments (6)  
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“Reviews” That Aren’t Reviews

I admit, it’s a pet peeve of mine—blog posts that purport to be reviews but actually do little besides regurgitate press releases or back cover copy.

I can go to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or to find the snippet the publisher has provided about a book. I can visit the author’s web site if I want to read his canned bio. When I read a blog post, I want to learn something MORE—something I couldn’t get in the usual places.

That’s why interviews are cool. But today I specifically want to rant abo discuss reviews. 😉

When I’m talking to a friend who has read a book I haven’t yet picked up—or if she’s seen a movie or watched a TV program I’ve only heard about—there are usually two questions I ask: what’s it about and did you like it?

If we have time, I may also ask why did you or didn’t you like it?

From my perspective, those are the essentials of a book review. If I’m talking to a friend, I don’t want her to whip out the LA Times and read their review of the movie. I want to know what my friend thought. After all, I know a little about her tastes and her worldview. She also doesn’t have a vested interest in whether or not I decide to buy a book or ticket because of what she tells me. Therefore, I trust her

Sadly, I’ve seen some blog “reviews” that miss the opportunity to build trust. Honest opinions do that. Some reviewers, instead, “love” everything. I mean, every book is a 5-star story. The writing is great—perfect, even. The author is brilliant, the characters are capable of walking off the page and into your living room. Every … single … book … review.

I don’t know about you, but that stretches my credibility. Especially if I happen to have read the book and found the characters flat and uninteresting or the writing trite and predictable.

How much better to take a step back and think about books objectively. I know it’s sometimes hard. Often when I close a book I love, I can only think of those things that drew me into the story. And that’s OK, but might there be something that could have strengthened the book even more?

Simply by noticing those things, a reviewer becomes more credible. Readers will not build inflated expectations based on a review that says a book is flawless. In reality, the reader may not care about whatever weakness the reviewer noticed, but that’s OK, too. It means the reader will actually like the book more than they expected.

The flip side of the “perfect book” review is the “PR shill” review. Little in the post is original content. The blogger has only cut and pasted material that could be found elsewhere, with perhaps a single line of personal opinion.

How is this helpful? That’s not even as informative as reading from the Times. It’s actually more like reading a paid advertisement.

When I visit a blog, I don’t want to know what the publisher says the book is about, I want to know what the blogger I’m visiting has to say it’s about. I want to know what he thought it’s winning points were. I want to know whether he’d recommend it to people like me.

At Amazon they have a way for visitors to vote whether or not they found a review helpful. Too bad all blog reviews don’t have that capacity, too. I think bloggers might see their posts in a new light if people could say with a click whether or not they found the review—or the “review”—helpful.

Of course, I’m setting myself up for failure, since I’ll be doing a review next week for the CSFF Blog Tour. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll write about a related topic and avoid the review altogether. 🙄